Stephen Caswell © 2000
Ÿ Young girls aren't allowed to walk a tightrope in Wheeler, Mississippi, unless in church.
Ÿ In Blackwater, Kentucky, tickling a woman under her chin with a feather duster while she's in church service carries a penalty of $10.00 and one day in jail.
Ÿ No one can eat unshelled, roasted peanuts while attending church in Idanha, Oregon.
Ÿ In Honey Creek, Iowa, no one is permitted to carry a slingshot to church except a policeman.
Ÿ No citizen in Leecreek, Arkansas, is allowed to attend church in any red-colored garment.
Ÿ Swinging a yo-yo in church or anywhere in public on the Sabbath is prohibited in Studley, Virginia.
Ÿ Turtle races are not permitted within 100 yards of a local church at any time in Slaughter, Louisiana.
You may laugh at these rediculous laws, yet today many are trying to please God by keeping rules, laws and traditions. This is nothing new. In Acts 15 the Jerusalem Council dealt with the same issue. Although laws abound in society today it doesn't necessarily make the world a better place. People can't keep them. Today I would like to look at the relationship between the Christian and the Law. In the old testament believers were commanded to keep the Law. Is the Church required to observe the law? The Law contains three main sections. The Ceremonial Law relating to worship, sacrifices, hygiene and diet. The Civil Law relating to community life and responsibilities. The Moral Law stated in the 10 commandments. Are we responsible to keep the ceremonial law today? No. Are we obliged to keep the civil law? No. Are we responsible to keep the moral law? No. Can we keep God's law? No. Has anyone kept the 10 commandments all their life? Please put your hands up. This morning I would like to look at the Christians relationship to the law under 2 headings.
I. The Failure Of The Law & II. The Fulfillment Of The Law
Firstly The Failure Of The Law - Legalism & Sin
Matthew 22:34-36 But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?
a. The Law Leads To Condemnation
One of the Pharisees showed respect for the Lord's answer to the Sadducees and asked a question of his own: Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? This was not a new question, for the scribes had been debating it for centuries. They had documented 613 commandments in the Law, 248 positive and 365 negative. No person could ever hope to know and fully obey all of these commandments. So, to make it easier, the experts divided the commandments into “heavy” (important) and “light” (unimportant). A person could major on the “heavy commandments” and not worry about the less important ones. The fallacy behind this approach is obvious: You need only break one law, heavy or light, to be guilty before God. James 2:10 says: For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. According to God's justice, to break one commandment is to break them all. The Law condemns people, it can't justify them.
Galatians 2:16 agrees with this: Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. Although Israel had the Law they never kept it. Stephen accused Israel's leaders of this very thing. The Law condemned them as it will condemn all who try to keep it.
b. The Law Leads To Conceit
The danger of observing the law is pride. When Christians make up a list of rules to obey they become proud of their achievements. A list of do's and don'ts is tangible and appeals to our ego. Before long legalistic believers compare themselves with other believers. They despise those who don't measure up to their own standard. They become self righteous. Such believers are blind to their own faults. The trouble is that this self righteousness is outward and never deals with the sins of the heart. Jesus warned about this in Matthew 7:1-5.
Christ said that to lust after a woman was really adultery and hatred was equivalent to murder. Israel is an example of legalism. They became proud of their spiritual heritage and this lead to their downfall. Instead of allowing the Law to convict them of sin they used it to attain self righteousness. They despised the Gentiles who they considered to be unclean. They were proud of their works. But God rejects all attempts to attain self righteousness.
Romans 9:30-32 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. We too, need to be careful here. We must never look down on others because we keep certain traditions. Our observance of the Law can't gain God's favor. Why? Because we can't keep it all. We are justified by faith not works. Therefore we have no reason to be proud of our position in Christ since we didn't earn it, God gave it to us by grace.
c. The Law Should Lead Us To Christ
Galatians 3:19, 24-25 What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
The purpose of the Law was to lead us to the Savior, Jesus Christ. The Law condemns people of sin. It is only when we acknowledge our guilt that God can save us. In fact, Jesus Christ died to save us, something the law can't do. Galatians 3:13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us for it is written, Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree. D.L. Moody said the Law tells me how crooked I am; grace comes along and straightens me out. We are saved by grace through faith, not by the works of the Law. No one will ever boast before God. Romans 4:2-5: For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the only person who kept all of the Law. He kept all 613 commands. We will never gain God's approval by keeping the Law. Even after we are saved we can't keep the Law. Galatians 3:2-3 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? The Law condemns us in order to lead us to Christ. But let us be careful that we don't try to live the Christian life by keeping the Law. Such works will inevitably leads us into pride when we judge others. Don't be known for not drinking, smoking, swearing. Be known as one who cares, one who serves his neighbor. Although Christ kept the Law He is remembered for His love, service & sacrifice.
Secondly The Fulfillment Of The Law - Love & The Spirit
Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
a. Love Embraces God's Law
How did Jesus respond to the lawyers question? Jesus quoted the Shema, a statement of faith found in Deuteronomy 6:4-6. This was recited daily by every orthodox Jew. The confession of faith begins with, Hear, O Israel! The greatest commandment is to love God with all that we are and have — heart, soul, mind, strength, possessions, service. To love God is not to have good feelings about Him, for true love involves the will as well as the heart. Where there is love, there will be service and obedience. But love for God cannot be divorced from love for one’s neighbor; so Jesus also quoted Leviticus 19:18 and put it on the same level as the Shema. All of the Law and the Prophets hang on both of these commandments. We might add that the teachings of the Epistles in the New Testament agree with this statement. The Pharisees failed here. They were strong on legalism but weak on love. Luke 11:42 But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.
b. Love Empowers God's Law
Jesus said that the Law and the prophets hang on these two commandments. The first four commandments involve our relationship with God, the second six with our neighbor.
The Preeminence Of Love
If love is the soul of Christian existence, it must be at the heart of every other Christian virtue. Thus, for example, justice without love is legalism; faith without love is ideology; hope without love is self-centeredness; forgiveness without love is self-abasement; fortitude without love is recklessness; generosity without love is extravagance; care without love is mere duty; fidelity without love is servitude. Every virtue is an expression of love. No virtue is really a virtue unless it is permeated, or informed, by love. At this point I would like to look at the 10 commandments in light of the New Testament.
1st Commandment: Exodus 20:3 You shall have no other gods before Me.
Put negatively, this commandment states that nothing can come before God in our lives. Why do I say negatively? Because each command starts by saying thou shalt not. This commandment not only refers to the worship of false gods, but also refers to our occupation, possessions, money, people, fame and position. Anything that could take God's place in our lives. Matthew 22:37 expresses it positively. Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. To love God with all our heart, soul and mind and strength is to love Him with all our being. This is not just a feeling but a commitment of our wills that leads to action. God shows His love for us by providing for our needs. He showed it most fully by sending His Son Jesus Christ to die for us. He asks for first place. The first commandment relates to the Lord's rightful position in our lives. If we love God we will gladly give Him first place.
2nd Commandment: Exodus 20:4-5a You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.
Put in a negative sense the second commandment forbids idolatry. Today millions of people worship idols of wood and stone. Expressed positively, we must worship God only. Satan asked the Lord to worship him during the wilderness temptation. Jesus responded in Matthew 4:10: Away with you, Satan! For it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve. Christ rebuked Satan and told Him that only God was worthy of worship and service. To worship God means to give Him what He is worth.
Romans 12:1 says: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. Paul asks believers to present themselves as living sacrifices to God. A sacrifice had no will of its own. It's will had been yielded up. The word service latreia in Romans 12:1 means religious service or worship. In light of God's mercy to us we ought to serve Him wholeheartedly. He is worthy to be worshipped. The second commandment relates to the Lord's service and worship. If we love the Lord we will joyfully serve and worship Him.
3rd Commandment: Exodus 20:7 You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
Negatively put, the third commandment forbids using God's name in blasphemy. This means using the names Lord, God, Jesus Christ and other divine names as forms of expression. A persons name represents them. God is holy and must not be associated with corrupt speech. The Jews revered God's name so much that they wouldn't even say it. People that claim to be speaking a word from the Lord need to be very careful that they are in fact doing that. God will judge all who speak in His name. In a positive sense the Bible encourages us to proclaim God's name in ways that honor Him. Praise, prayer, preaching and witnessing do this.
1. Praise Hebrews 13:15 Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. This is done in word or song.
2. Prayer Luke 11:2 So He said to them, When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. At another time, Jesus encouraged the disciples to pray to the Father in His name.
3. Preaching & Witnessing Acts 4:7, 9-12 And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power or by what name have you done this? If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone. Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. The third commandment relates to Lord's name. If we love the Lord we will honor His name. We will glorify God in our conversation.
4th Commandment: Exodus 20:8 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Put negatively Israel was forbidden from working on the Sabbath day. Under the Law Israel was commanded to set aside the 7th day of the week for rest and reflection. They were to devote the entire day to God. This gave them the opportunity to remember the Lord and what He had done for them; to praise and thank Him. Christians aren't under the laws of the Sabbath day. But positively, we are told to meet together for praise, worship and mutual encouragement. Hebrews 10:25 says: Do not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. We have so much to praise and thank God for. The fourth commandment relates to Lord's Day. If we love God we will gladly remember His Day.
The last six commandments involve our relationships with our neighbor. Matthew 22:39 And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
5th Commandment: Exodus 20:12 Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
This commandment required Israel to respect their parents. For a nation to be strong its families must be run in an orderly fashion. Children must obey their parents for this to happen. When parents grow older their children should care for them. Paul also commands this. 1 Timothy 5:3-4: Honor widows who are really widows. But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God. Children ought to repay their parents for the care that they received when they were growing up. They must honor their parents all of their lives. They are not required to obey them when they start their own families. But they must always honor them. And this means caring for them.
Christ rebuked the Pharisees for disobeying the fifth commandment. Matthew 15:3-6 He answered and said to them, Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God— ‘then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. God wants us to look after our parents in their old age. If we love them we will want to do this.
6th Commandment: Exodus 20:13 You shall not murder.
Negatively expressed, the sixth commandment forbids murder. However Christ equated hatred with murder. Matthew 5:21-22 You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, Raca! shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, You fool! shall be in danger of hell fire. Jesus then gave His disciples a positive command to overcome their enemies through love. Matthew 5:43-44 You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, If we love our neighbor we won't cause him harm.
7th Commandment: Exodus 20:14 You shall not commit adultery.
Negatively expressed this command forbids sex outside of marriage. Sexual immorality brings tragic consequences. In the New Testament believers are commanded to do more than avoid this sin. They are commanded positively to love one another. Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her. Husbands are commanded to love their own wives not someone else's. 1 Timothy 5:1-2 gives instruction concerning all members of the Church. Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger as sisters, with all purity. We should treat members of the opposite sex like family. We are all members of God's family. Real love seeks the welfare of the person loved, it doesn't seek to satisfy its own lusts at another's expense. If we love our neighbor we won't commit adultery.
8th Commandment: Exodus 20:15 You shall not steal.
Negatively the eighth commandment forbids theft. This involves a lot more than we think. Cheating on an exam paper is stealing, so is lying on our tax return. God commands His people to be honest in all their dealings. The New Testament goes even further with a positive command. Ephesians 4:28 Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Christians ought to work honestly and provide for themselves and the needy. James 2:15-16 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, Depart in peace, be warmed and filled, but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? If we love others we won't steal from them but give.
9th Commandment: Exodus 20:16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Negatively speaking the ninth commandment forbids lying. God hates lies and deception. This includes half truths and white lies. People can alter the meaning of something by the way they say it or the expression on their face. Paul gives positive commands about this in the New Testament. Ephesians 4:15,25 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head —Christ. Therefore, putting away lying, Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. If we love our neighbor we won't lie to them. Instead we will speak the truth in a loving and gracious way.
10th Commandment: Exodus 20:17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.
Negatively this commandment forbids us from desiring what belongs to our neighbor. This commandment gets to heart of all sin. Covetousness is the root of all sin. Ahab coveted Naboth's vineyard and allowed Jezebel to lie, kill and steal to get it. David coveted Uriah's wife and committed adultery, murder and then lied. Achan coveted and stole what belonged to God. The New Testament gives a positive commandment on this. 1 Timothy 6:6-8 Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. If we love our neighbor we won't covet what belongs to them, we will be content.
Jesus Summary Of These Two Commandments
Matthew 22:40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. Even under the Law God planned that Israel's obedience should be motivated by love. Love is the strongest motivation you can find for obedience. Love fulfills the Law. Romans 13:8-10 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, You shall not covet, and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Galatians 5:13-14 says it too: For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Are believers required to keep the Law? No. Can they keep the ten commandments? No. But God wants us to keep the Royal Law, the Law of love. The finished work of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit work through love to fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law. God spreads His love abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. He enables us to love and serve both God and our neighbor. Let us pursue the Law of Love. For in doing this not only will we avoid sinning against our neighbor, we will serve them as well. Can I encourage you to avoid becoming self righteousness through the law. But instead fulfill the royal law of love. There is nothing appealing about cold orthodox Christianity founded upon rules. Yet loving Christian service will always draw people to Christ. The difference is like comparing the life of the Pharisees to the life of Jesus Christ. The world doesn't need any more legalistic Christians today, the world needs loving servants like Jesus Christ. Will you pursue the Law of Love? Will you fulfill God's will for you?
Hebrews 13:20-21: Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.